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February 18, 2019

Gerhard found support in many different places. “I have met so many people, and I wouldn’t have the same experiences, my life would have been way different. I wouldn’t be the same person,” she says, fondly describing the new people that she has met along her journey, many of whom have become her closest confidants.

“Azalea will be there for you, and stick by your side. She will listen to you and lift you up. She makes my day so much better, when I’m feeling down, and will offer her opinion and advice. She is one of the most supportive people I know, and I’m thankful to have her in my life,” says sophomore Gabrielle Sorgenfrei, who is a close friend.

Sorgenfrei sees friends to play a crucial role in supporting their transgender friends. “People can help their transgender friends, by being open and listening to them. The most important part is being supportive and seeing them for the gender they really are. Take them clothes shopping, and even help them look more masculine or feminine,” she says. Gerhard is also grateful for the support of her family: “I think they’re pretty accepting of my gender identity, I’m called Azalea at home, and occasionally they slip up, but they don’t mean to,” she shares.

She has also found support in the classroom and throughout the school. Spanish Teacher Kaitie Paynich, who leads the GSA, has formed a particularly close relationship with Gerhard. “I’ve known Azalea probably about 3 years now, and she’s been coming to GSA since it was reinstated,” she says. “I think Azalea is one of the most incredible people I’ve met through GSA, because she has been through so much. Not only is she going through the gender dysphoria, she also has autism, and there’s that double layer of not understanding social cues and on top of that feeling all these different things of gender dysphoria, I can’t imagine yet she’s so positive and so sweet, just wants to be embraced by everyone she’s amazing,” she elaborates.

Despite facing many challenges along the way, Gerhard is a picture of contagious positivity, constantly demonstrating that happiness is attainable, even in the most challenging situations. “If there isn’t a reason to keep going now, there may be a reason in the future,” she says thoughtfully. “Although I do struggle with loving and accepting myself sometimes, being myself is important and the things and experiences that make me who I am are important, I’d be an entirely different person without them,” she says.

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